One Hundred and One Mezze: 25. Nakanek

Nakanek, or Makanek as known in Lebanon and most Levantine restaurants around the world (maqaniq is an alternative spelling) is a small thin lamb sausage. It uses sweet fragrant spices as opposed to the hot spices used in Sujuk. Pine nuts is an essential ingredient in these sausages and adds a nice crunch and a subtle sweet flavour.

You can buy them in most Middle Eastern butchers and large supermarkets in London. I tried many different Nakanek from many different shops but my favourite remain the ones I buy from The Green Valley supermarket on Edgware Road.

You can prepare Nakanek in few different ways. I love them simply fried in a little bit of butter and served with a squeeze of lemon and a slice of tomato.

Here is a simple Nakanek recipe:

Nakanek 400g
Butter (or Ghee clarified butter) 1tbsp
Rocket leaves

Fry the Nakanek sausages in butter till they get a nice brown colour. Cover the pan and continue cooking for few minutes until cooked through. Don't over cook them, they dry up quickly.

Serve with lemon, sliced tomato and rocket leaves.

Alternatively you can grill the sausages on a hot griddle pan.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 24. Okra in Olive Oil

The British concept of meat and two veg meals doesn't exist in Syrian, and the rest of the Middle East, cuisine. We don't use vegetable boiled or steamed as a side to the meat. Traditional Levantine cooking uses meat and vegetables cooked together in a stew type dishes served with rice or Bulgar.

For every meat based dish there is an "Oil" counter part. These dishes are usually served as side dishes at room temperature or part of a mezze. They are called "Oil" dishes as they cooked in olive. Almost every kind of vegetable can be cooked this way; runner beans, broad beans, spinach and today's vegetable Okra.

Okra or Bamyeh as it is know in Syria is a very popular vegetable in Middle Eastern and East Mediterranean cooking. Traditionally it is cooked with lamb cubes in a tomato-based stew and served with rice. Today's recipe is Bamyeh Bi Zeit or Okra in Olive Oil a meatless counterpart. It is not as frequently cooked but as delicious if not better. I find bamyeh bi zeit at its best if cooked and left in the fridge overnight for the flavour to develop. Next day take out of the fridge let it get back to room temperature and enjoy it with Arabic bread.
Here is my Bamyeh Bi Zeit recipe:

Okra 250g
Tomato 2-3
Chopped coriander leaves 1 tbsp
Garlic 2 cloves
Olive oil 2 tbsp

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a heavy bottom pot. Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the oil. Chop the okra and very thinly slice the garlic. Add to the pot. Season with salt and add a little hot water to cover the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Once the vegetables are cooked and most of water has evaporated add the chopped coriander. Mix and cover for another 5 minutes.

Serve with Arabic flat bread.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 23. Moussaka

Like stuffed vine leaves, Moussaka is another ex-Ottoman Empire dish. While most of the people outside the region know the Greek version of the dish, other versions of Moussaka exists in many countries from Egypt, The Levant, Turkey and all the way to the Balkans. While I conceded stuffed vine leaves to the Turks due to etymology I can comfortably claim Moussaka to us Levantines for the exact same reasons. Moussaka is a word of Arabic origin. It comes from the Arabic musaqqa'a مسقعة which translates roughly to "Chilled" as the dish is served at room temperature.

The common theme between all the different versions of Moussaka around the world is the two main ingredients aubergines and tomatoes. In Damascus Moussaka is served as a side dish or as part of mezze and strictly vegetarian. In some other parts of Syria ground meat is added and the dish is served as a main. In Lebanon chickpeas is a common extra. The Turkish and Egyptian versions call for ground meat and the Greek one you all know with the traditional layers and white sauce topping.

Here is my Mousska Damascene style:

One large aubergine
Two tomatoes
One onion
One red pepper
Garlic 3-4 cloves
Coriander leaves chopped 1tbsp (optional)
Vegetable oil
Olive oil 3tbsp

Heat the vegetable oil to fry the Aubergine.

Peel the aubergine in stripes (as above, I just like the way it looks!) and cut into 1.5 cm thick slices. Fry till fully cooked and golden brown in colour.

Slice the onions and the peppers, roughly chop the tomatoes and try to slice the garlic as thin as you can. In a pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onion on medium heat till soft. Add the garlic, tomato and red peppers and cook for 10 minutes or till fully cooked. Add the chopped coriander leaves and season with salt.

Add the fried aubergines and mix gently so you don't break the aubergine slices. Cook for further 5 minutes.

Let cool down and serve with flat Arabic bread.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 22. Tabbouleh

I don't know how did I manage to go over a year of blogging without a recipe for Tabbouleh. After Hummus and the inaccurately named Baba Ghanoush, Tabbouleh is The Levant's third biggest culinary export to the world.
Like all other dishes that moved from local to international status, the tangy parsley-based salad has been bastardised and adapted in endless ways. My friend Tammam has had a "tabbouleh" dish from a supermarket in Geneva withe the ingredients: couscous, raisins, onion, chicken and basil!
Admittedly, not all adapted version are as bad. In most cases of "supermarket tabbouleh" the main ingredients of the original dish are the same but the balance is completely skewed towards Bulgar. Authentic Tabbouleh should be three quarters parsley and one quarter everything else.
In my recipe I tried to use as accurate quantities as I could, so any body trying the recipe can get a taste and feel of what an authentic tabbouleh is. To give tabbouleh its characteristic spicy edge I like to use finely ground black pepper. You can use allspice, mixed spice (baharat) or as they do in Aleppo, Aleppo peppers! 

Edit 29/09/2014
In my recipe I use fine Bulgur wheat which you need to buy from Middle Eastern shops. The grain is very small so you don't need to cook it. Just soak in water for 30 minutes will do. However Bulgur bought from high street supermarket has medium size grain and will not be soft enough just soaked. You will need to boil it for 10 minutes then drain and let cool.

Here is my tabbouleh recipe:
Flat leaf parsley 250g (before trimming the stalks) Mint leaves 30g Fine Bulgar wheat 50g Small red onion One tomato Sumac 1tsp Black pepper 1/2tsp Lemon 1-2 according to taste Salt Olive oil 4-5 tbsp
Start by washing and soaking the Bulgar wheat in cold water for 30 minutes.
The secret to nice crisp tabbouleh is a very sharp knife to chop the parsley without bruising the leafs. Chop the parsley, mint, onion and tomato finely. Drain the Bulgar and squeeze the extra water. Squeeze the lemons.
Mix all the ingredients. And leave for around 30 minutes before serving.
We like to serve tabbouleh with lettuce in Syria. We use lettuce leaves to make small wraps full of the tangy salad.


One Hundred and One Mezze: 21. Stuffed Vine Leaves

The love of stuffed vine leaves extends way beyond the borders of the Levant. People from The Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and all the way to Middle Asia enjoys the tiny tangy wraps. I tried to do some research into the dish origin but I found it difficult to accurately identify where it was first cooked. Many different nations make a claim but without a doubt the Turkish voice remains the loudest. The name most commonly used in all of these countries "Dolma" or a variation of it. Dolma is Turkish for "stuffed".

The dish is most likely invented or at least developed into its current form in the Ottoman Empire. At one point it was one huge country extending from Central Europe to Central Asia and including most of North Africa. Food, ingredients, recipes and even chefs moved freely around the empire. No wonder there are so many similarities and common dishes in all these countries cuisines.

In Syria we use Turkish names to call stuffed vine leaves but interestingly it is not Dolma. We cooked vine leaves in two ways one with meat and rice stuffing, served hot and eaten as a main dish. This dish is called
Yaprak, Turkish for "leaf". The other is the vegetarian variant most people know, served cold as a starter or part of a Mezze spread. This version is called Yalangi, Turkish for "fake". Fake because it doesn't contain any meat of course!

Here is my Yalangi recipe:

Vine leaves, preserved 300g
Short grain rice 200g (paella rice works very well, or the more authentic Egyptian rice)
One large tomato
One small onion
One lemon
Chopped parsley 2-3 tbsp
Dried mint 1tsp
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Olive oil 3-4 tbsp

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for around 30 minutes.

Finely chop the onion and tomato. Sweat the onions in olive oil on medium heat till soft and translucent. Drain the rice and add to the pot. Stir well till the rice grain are heated and coated with the oil. Add the chopped tomato, parsley, mint, allspice. Season with salt and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix well and remove from the heat. Taste the rice mixture for seasoning.

Spoon a small amount of the mixture into the centre of the leaf. Fold the edges and roll as in the picture. If this is your first time, it will start slowly but don't get disheartened. You will soon be much quicker and the roles will look neater.

Cover the bottom of the pot with the left over leaves or sliced potatoes to prevent the wraps sticking to the bottom of the pot. Arrange the rolled leaves in layers. They need to be fairly compact to prevent them opening or breaking. Once you arranged all the wrapped leaves put a small plate on the top preferably with a small weight to keep the vine leaves compact.

Add the juice of the other lemon half and cover with water. Start cooking on a high heat. Once started boiling turn down the heat to medium and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will depend on how soft the leaves are. Keep an eye on them.

Once cooked transfer carefully to a plate and let cool down before serving.

There are countless variations to stuffed vine leaves recipe. You can replace the lemon juice with pomegranate molasses. Greeks use dill instead of parsley. Turks add currents or raisins sometimes. Iraqis cook their dolma with tamarind. Feel free to adapt the recipe the way you like it.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 20. Hummus with Sujuk

It just occurred to me that it took me a year of blogging to reach 19 Mezze dishes. If I am ever to reach my target of one hundred and one it is going to be years on this rate. I obviously need to do much better. So April is going to be Mezze month. The target is ten but I am not sure if I will be able to achieve that with a busy on call schedule this months. In fact I am on call today and I just came back from hospital after we spent the day saving a patient life (You don't get to say that much in my specialty so it feels good to brag about it when it happens). So as you can imagine I am quite tired and I am choosing something easy to start with, Hummus with Sujuk.

I first tried this dish in Narenj, my favourite restaurant in Damascus. It is a simple but delicious combination of hummus and Damascene style Sujuk. A spicy cured(ish) meat I posted a recipe of few months ago. Sujuk is easy to prepare and will last in the fridge for a good couple of weeks. I usually make a patch, split it to individual portions and freeze it. It last for months.

Here is my recipe:

Sujuk meat

Make sure your hummus is room temperature before you top it with the sujuk. Other wise the fat from the meat will solidify and become very unappetizing.

To serve, spread the hummus on the plate and top with hot Sujuk meat. You can add some toasted pine nuts for extra level of flavour.

Serve with Arabic flat bread.